EROTIKOS LOGOS. Six songs for countertenor, clarinet, viola, cello and piano. 1991. Texts in Greek by George Seferis. Winner of the 1996 (Governor General) Jules Leger Prize for New Chamber Music. 22 minutes. Score and parts available through PROMETHEAN EDITIONS.


Christos Hatzis: EROTIKOS LOGOS

Three Songs on Poems by Sappho

Erotikos Logos


Three song cycles on texts by Sappho, George Seferis and Gwendolyn MacEwen.

Monica Whicher, soprano. Ronald Greydanus, countertenor. Joaquin Valdepeñas, clarinet; Steven Dann, viola; David Hetherington, cello; Mark Widner, piano. Trevor Tureski, percussion, under the direction of Robert Aitken. Keith Horner, producer. Marquis Classics ERAD 197. Available October 1996 in Canada, November 1996 in the United States and February 1997 in Europe. Produced by Iolkos Productions with financial support from the Ontario Arts Council and F.A.C.T.O.R.

The composition of Erotikos Logos spans a period of sixteen years. I set the first two poems to music in 1975, while still a composition student at the Eastman School of Music. Being a student work, Erotikos Logos was never included in my list of works which begins with Aztlan in 1979. I had nearly forgotten of its existence until the spring of 1990, when a number of events corroborated in bringing this setting to the surface again. The turning point was a meeting with Greek popular singer Dimitra Galani during Easter that year at her new home on Mt. Pelion which my brother Sotiris, an architect, had just finished building. We listened to each other's music and Dimitra expressed the wish to sing something of mine which could be suitable for her voice. I could not think of anything I already had which could serve the purpose, but when she heard a student recording of Erotikos Logos (the original instrumentation was for soprano, flute, clarinet, violoncello and harp) she was immediately attracted to it. Given the fact that it had to be rewritten for her voice, a low female voice in the countertenor register, I decided to also change the instrumentation to the present one which I feel complements better the countertenor vocal timbre. I kept the original two songs virtually unaltered, but for their instrumentation. It goes without saying that musically they are the most naïve and innocent of the set, separated by fifteen years of musical and personal growth from the remaining three songs of the cycle. In retrospect I think that this gap serves the poetry well. There is a definite progression in the poetry from the innocence of the opening to the alienation and introspection of the latter poems and the breaking point (if there is one at all) is about where I left off in 1975. I composed the third song in Athens at the house of my friend George Kontogeorgos in November 1990 and the remaining songs in Toronto in November 1991. In all five songs the vocal part is written so that it could be learned 'by ear' and it does not require a classically trained voice to sing it. To compensate for that technically, the instrumental parts are considerably more involved. Musically, the fifth song is the most adventurous, and of particular contrapuntal interest. It is for the most part a set of canons in transposition (at the fourth, minor third and major second) or in transposition, retrograde form and diminution all at the same time. The fourth song with its reference to the jazz and pop idioms of the twenties and thirties, is a rather risky interpretation of a stanza which is entirely written in italics. I interpreted it as the lyrics of a song playing on the radio. Seferis worked on Erotikos Logos from October 1920 to November 1930, so this particular short song is my fantasy of what he himself might have heard on the radio at that time. 

For an English translation of Erotikos Logos by George Seferis see: 'George Seferis: Collected Poems 1924-1955'. Translated, edited and introduced by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Thirty Beford Square, London. 

Premiere performance: October 29, 1995 by countertenor Ronald Greydanus and an ensemble consisting of Joaquin Valdepenas, clarinet; Steven Dann, viola; David Hetherington, cello; Mark Widner, piano under the direction of Robert Aitken. 'An Evening with Christos Hatzis', New Music Concerts, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto. 


An evening with composer Christos Hatzis proved also to be an evening with great poetry, gifted performers-and a host of composers from the past, whose voices echoed benevolently through Hatzis' work. ..His settings of Sappho, Gwendolyn MacEwen and George Seferis were chock-full of allusions to musical styles as diverse as Bach, Renaissance polyphony, folksong, Byzantine chant, Ravel, Mahler, Puccini, Strauss and popular music. Somewhat amazingly, in light of these eclectic borrowings, the music never sounded impoverished, or even pastiche-like. Nor did it feel old-fashioned, thanks to a textural intricacy which belied the disarming simplicity of the harmonies....[The musicians] brought a subdued sadness to the opening [of Erotikos Logos] written in a simple, archaic style. The tenorish timbre of [Ronald] Greydanus's voice blended beautifully with the stringed instruments and clarinet, in these haunting settings. Tamara Bernstein, THE GLOBE AND MAIL (CANADA) 

Given the bleakness of what lies ahead, it made sense perhaps to kick off the 25th season of the New Music Concerts with an evening devoted to Christos Hatzis. The work of this talented Greco-Canadian composer recalls the past as much as it anticipates the future... Christopher Hume, THE TORONTO STAR (CANADA)

Take a long, deep breath. Exhale slowly and imagine an ancient myth unfolding like the sails of Jason's Argo in a strong Aegean sea breeze. Now imagine the songs and stories of lost times made intelligible to modern ears and hearts: classical tales of Greece and Egypt projected on our mind's internal cinema screens and underscored by the music of our desires. Erotikos Logos comprises three song cycles composed by Christos Hatzis on love poems by Sappho, George Seferis and Gwendolyn MacEwen. These songs form a personal vocabulary of passion for the Greek-born Hatzis, and are rewarding listening for anyone willing to open their feelings to his considerable expressive abilities. Hatzis is a persuasive and thoughtful guide. He paints magnificent backdrops of emotion employing a musical palette reminiscent of Monteverdi, Schubert, Debussy, Glass and even Broadway show tunes on which he applies globs of rich vocal lines for soprano Monica Whicher and countertenor Ronald Greydanus. Despite most of the texts being Greek and indecipherable prior to reading the translations, the songs pack a serious emotional punch. Hatzis is easily forgiven the occasional foray into correspondence course romanticism and perfunctory sensuality when the ensemble of voice, clarinet, viola, cello piano and percussion blow in a fresh turn of phrase or ingenious orchestration. Hatzis is a deft melodist and a master of form. His sense of proportion ensures that few of his ideas outstay their welcome or disappoint the listener with premature resolution. the crackerjack chamber ensemble conducted by Canadian flutist and new music eminence, Robert Aitken, is great company for both vocalists who rise to the challenge of these demanding scores. Greydanus is the more convincing because his unaffected delivery better suites the illusion of timeless history the composer seems to seek. Marquis Classics has used a different production team on this release, resulting in a significantly improved sonic experience.....The sum is a playful and pungent CD that whispers to you more eloquently with successive hearings. If you're curious, buy it. Your inner sensualist will thank you. Michael Juk, THE VANCOUVER COURIER (CANADA) 

With rigorous musical discipline and an acute ear for transcendentally beautiful sounds, Christos Hatzis writes mouthwatering scores that are both familiar and strange. They are familiar because he often quotes actual themes like the bit of Puccini that creeps into his song-cycle Erotikos Logos, or recreates familiar styles like the Sigmund Rombergish melody that arches through the ravishing background agitation in the first of his Three Songs on Poems by Sappho. These familiar patches are evanescent. They don't die but live out a half-life like decaying uranium. The strangeness comes form the fact that the melodies never go where you expect them to. they rise and fall according to an inner logic closely married to that of the poetry the set. The context of their lyrical, sensual sweep is often contradicted by the sound of the piano in the background playing a different rhythm, different tempo and different keyscape. Hatzis' craftsmanship is superb to the point of transparency. It gives tremendous support and integrity to lines that appear and disappear with the spontaneity of improvisation. the ensemble of clarinet, viola, cello and piano, with percussion (Arcana only), is directed by Robert Aitken and is, in a word, beyond superb. Stephen Pedersen, THE CHRONICLE-HERALD (CANADA)


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